The evening following our tour of the Coliseum, Roman Forum and Palatine, we wandered the side streets and markets, window shopping our way to the hotel to reset before finding another pasta/seafood-filled dinners that roman restaurants do so well. We walked north towards the gardens and parks that stretch around a lake, and ended up at a nearby Italian bistro. After a meal of lobster linguine (wow!), we walked about five minutes to the Spanish Steps and descended to the lovely fountain featuring a marble canal boat spouting fluorescent aqua water.
Rome in two and a half days is a difficult task. The more tours you add to your schedule, the more you add to the list of things you’ve got to see next time you’re in the city, because it’s just so easy. We had to prioritize and chose to see the Vatican on our last morning. The website for the Vatican guided tours offers a variety of options: Vatican gardens, which are amazingly beautiful especially on a sunny afternoon, Spirituality, Art and You, and Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel tour among others. We chose the last one, not exactly knowing what to expect.
Vatican City is just to the west of the city center and its towering brick borders are easily accessible by bus or subway. The line for day-of ticket purchases outlines the walls of the Vatican and is reminiscent of the ones filled with brightly dressed families ready to meet Mickey Mouse. Thankfully, we had booked online and breezed on by these frowning people.
I hadn’t fully understood the immensity of the Vatican until arriving. As you walk through the tourist entrance, you are fed into a series of lines depending on your tour. We joined the rest of the English speakers and started our tour of the Vatican Museum. Before the tour, I hadn’t known that there was such a large art and sculpture collection maintained and presented. It turned into an art history lesson, filled in naked bodies, reaching hands, tangled serpents, wild animals, and combat events.
Each room you walk through presents you with a new challenge to see every part of the work of art, from floor to ceiling, to doorways and windowsills. By the end of the tour I couldn’t even recognize the impressiveness because every one of the previous twenty or so rooms had been so incredible. The tour ends with the Sistine Chapel, which is now more like a massive open art gallery than a chapel. Long gone are the secluded rooms for the Pope and his consultants and the pews that filled with highly ranked religious officials. When we entered the room, we could hardly push ourselves to the center of it, because of all the other viewers. There are security guards ensuring that no pictures are taken and that the whispering roar stays at low decibels. The paintings, although hundreds of years old, are still immensely colorful and outstandingly overwhelming to view. The purr of the crowd and the pressing strange warm bodies makes the room feel very alive, and I found this to be the more intriguing element of the Sistine Chapel.
After the tour, we caught a train to Florence for an overnight stop before departing to Milan the day following. The trip was a little under two hours and when we arrived in Florence, we were presented with an obstacle course of lugging suitcases because of some extensive construction work that was blocking an otherwise easy walk. With the help of several locals, we arrived at hotel Fedora. The scent of freshly baked cake filled the halls and after unloading in our room, we had a meal at a small pizzeria restaurant just outside the hotel’s 20-foot tall doors. Surprisingly, this was where I ate my favorite meal of trip, seafood stew brimming to the rim with fresh shrimp, mussels, and squid in a homemade tomato and basil sauce. The next morning, we had breakfast and headed back to the rail station for our trip to Milan.
The trains that cross Italy are quite nice. Even in a foreign language, they are relatively easy to navigate. We caught our four and a half hour train to Zurich and settled into the comfortable seats. The train ride was my primary excitement for our short day and a half stint in Switzerland. Collections of fresh snow started to pile on the grounds that flew by the tracks. Italian villas nestled into rolling hills turned into chalets with towering peaks above them and small villages clinging to the clear lakes that rest between the mountains of the Alps. It is an incredibly beautiful spectacle of natural beauty. This scene flew by us for nearly three full hours more and until we pulled into Zurich, one of the largest and oldest cities in Switzerland.
Next time, I’ll share some of my favorite pictures of the trip. Stay tuned for updates on our adventures throughout Zurich and then our time in Ireland!